Zaporozhye Offensive Operation

The 'Zaporozhye Offensive Operation' was the Soviet third of the 10 sub-operations together constituting the 'Lower Dniepr Strategic Offensive Operation', and was carried out by the left wing of the South-West Front in order to destroy the German bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dniepr river and to liberate the city of Zaporozhye (10/14 October 1943).

The sub-operations were the 'Kremenchug Offensive Operation' (26 September/10 October), the 'Melitopol Offensive Operation' (26 September/5 November), the 'Zaporozhye Offensive Operation' (10/14 October), the 'Kremenchug-Pyatikhatky Offensive Operation' (15 October/3 November), the 'Dnepropetrovsk Offensive Operation' (23 October/23 December), the '1st Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation' (14/21 November), the 'Apostolovo Offensive Operation' (14 November/23 December), the 'Nikopol Offensive Operation' (14 November/31 December), the 'Aleksandriya-Znamenka Offensive Operation' (22 November/9 December) and the '2nd Krivoi Rog Offensive Operation (10/19 December).

The German bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dniepr river was a well-planned position 25 miles (40 km) wide and 12.5 miles (20 km) deep, and was held by major elements of Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen’s 1st Panzerarmee in the form of five infantry divisions, one Panzergrenadier division, one separate tank battalion, two assault gun battalions and a miscellany of other unit totalling some 35,000 men with about 200 tanks and self-propelled guns, and about 600 pieces of artillery and mortars,

The Soviet operations was undertaken by General Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s South-West Front using General Leytenant Aleksandr V. Gorbatov’s 3rd Army, General Leytenant Vasili I. Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army and General Major Aleksei I. Danilov’s 12th Army, supported by the aircraft of General Leytenant Vladimir A. Sudets’s 17th Air Army. The main task of the offensive was assigned to the 8th Guards Army. The plan created by the Soviet high command was based on simultaneous attacks from the north-east, east and south-east on axes converging on Zaporozhye. The quantitative advantage in strength enjoyed by the Soviet forces at the start of the offensive was 2.2/1 in infantry, 1.6/1 in armour and 2.1/1 in artillery, though it must be added that the Soviet forces, which had been advancing continuously since August, were all short of ammunition. This led to the Soviet decision, at the start of the offensive, to base some 40% of its direct-fire support of the infantry on armour rather than artillery.

In was on 23 September that Malinovsky’s forces had reached the Dniepr river, and General Leytenant Ivan T. Schlemin’s 6th Army and Danilov’s 12th Army then established a lodgement, some 3.75 miles (6 km) wide and 4.35 miles (7 km) deep, from which on 4/5 October the 12th Army crossed the river.

The 'Zaporozhye Offensive Operation' started on 10 October and, after four days of severe fighting, the Soviet troops broke through the Germans' outer and intermediate defence lines to approach, on 13 October, the close approaches to Zaporozhye. On the night of 13 October, at an observation post near the village of Bogdanovka, an expanded meeting of the South-West Front’s military council was held with the participation of the commanders of the front’s combat arms, armies, mechanised corps and tank corps. Malinovsky, who had long been an exponent of bold and unorthodox improvisations, on this occasion suggested a nocturnal assault to storm the Zaporozhye bridgehead and the city. The assault began at 22.00 on the same day, and more than 200 tanks and self-propelled guns were committed. After the previous day’s intense and fierce fighting, the attack initially stunned the Germans, who quickly regained their equilibrium and began to offer stubborn resistance even while ferrying unit to the Dniepr river’s right bank. General Leytenant Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 3rd Guards Army was advancing from the south-east, while the main blow was delivered by Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army in co-operation with General Leytenant Ivan N. Russiyanov’s I Guards Mechanised Corps and General Leytenant Yefim G. Pushkin’s XXIII Tank Corps, which advanced from Lyubimovka-Bekarovka in the direction of Smachivat'-Zaporozhye. From the north-east came Danilov’s 12th Army and from the north-east Gorbatov’s 3rd Army. Attacking to the north-west, units of the XXIII Tank Corps broke into the southern outskirts of the city at 02.00 and, after driving the Germans out of the southern part of the city, tanks supported by the 59th Guards Division broke through to the city’s centre. Despite fierce German resistance, the Soviet forces had liberated Zaporozhye by the end of the day.

In this five-day battle, the Germans had lost 23,000 men, more than 160 tanks and assault guns, and 430 pieces of artillery and mortars.

The successful implementation of the Soviet operation significantly improved the situation on the southern sector of the Eastern Front. Soviet troops, having seized the Zaporozhye bridgehead, were now able to advance on Krivoi Rog, and the South Front passed onto the flank and rear of the Melitopol grouping of German troops to reach the lower reaches of the Dniepr river. Elimination of Zaporozhye bridgehead removed the German threat from the south of the Soviet troops advancing in the direction of Dnepropetrovsk, as well as creating conditions favourable for the isolation of the German forces in Crimea.